No matter the crisis, no matter how many there have been, it’s not too late.

Expect the stupidI would imagine that if people had tried to warn me of the difficulties of parenting a teen when I was a newlywed I would have simply laughed.  It is easy to be overconfident because we often look at our own parents and think, “Surely, I will do better than them and I turned out okay.”  Of course, looking back, we don’t believe that the problems we caused as teens were any big deal.  But I am sure if you asked my dad he might disagree, especially after I totaled his new car twice.  He didn’t show it, but he might have spent some sleepless nights waiting for me to return home.

Parenting teens can often be boiled down to simply helping them solve a series of crises.  Actually, that’s just about how all parents I know describe their parenting. The crises change, and some are big and some are small, but they are real to all involved.

Of course, the media would have us believe that adolescence has changed and that somehow parents have become less influential.  But none of the research suggests that parents are less of a factor in teen choices. In fact, our kids are staying in the home until they are older.  So no matter the crisis, no matter how many there have been, it’s not too late.

You see, after talking to thousands of parents, I know that many of them feel that it is too late. They’ve had one too many crises. Or, they were away too much. Or, they’ve made too many mistakes.

But, that’s just not the case.

It is never too late for you to start. Whether your child is still in your home or not, you can make a difference.  As my teens are transitioning into their 20’s here are three things that I have learned.

  1. Don’t buy into the low expectations of teens 

Expectations are good.  Kids will live up to the expectations that you set, whether they are high or low.

  1. Expect the stupid

You see, kids are supposed to do stupid things and that is also why they still need parents.  They really are not capable of living on their own until they get the stupid mistakes out of them.  We all learn through experience and of course it is hard to get dragged through the stupid decisions that our kids make…like the time I tried to ‘get air’ under my car, Dukes of Hazard style, and jumped it right into another car.  My dad had to walk through the insurance process with me.  It was a real hassle for him.  It is important to note that he didn’t rescue me from the consequences of my behavior.  And I really only learned because the consequences hurt.  All my money went to buying him a new car.  So as parents we walk with our kids through the stupid but they need to own their stupid and pay the price.  We don’t want to enable any more stupid by making it easy to make the same mistake.  Wisdom comes from experience.

  1. Everyone hits the rapids

Parenting is a lot like going on a rafting trip. At first, everyone is excited, clapping paddles and the water is calm. The baby is born and everyone is celebrating. Friends and family are giving you gifts and talking about how much they want to be involved. The river guide provides a few directions while everyone is laughing in the boat and bragging about how well they are going to do on the trip. As a parent with older teens, I almost get annoyed when I hear young parents bragging about how they are going to be so different: “Our kids don’t watch television, don’t eat McDonalds, and are walking, talking, reading or writing ahead of schedule.”

“Just wait,” I think. The purpose of this whole ride is to hit some nasty rapids. And you can’t avoid the rapids; every river flows in only one direction. Sadly, once in the rapids it often feels like “every man for himself” and the promise of involvement by family or friends often disappears. You might be looking around in the boat and everyone seems only concerned about themselves or maybe your spouse has even jumped overboard. And there you sit, you and your teen getting knocked around by some very heavy waves.

All I can say is to hang on and do everything you can to keep your teen in the boat. Teens are supposed to hit a few rapids—that’s how they transition to adulthood. The better prepared you are for the rapids, the better off you will be. Don’t think you can avoid them or that avoiding them is even that great. Kids need a bit of rough water to learn and grow. You want them to experience tough stuff when you are around so that you can teach them the best practices that you have learned. So keep them in the boat, believe in their ability to get through, and expect them to lose a paddle in the process. After all, we have all done stupid things.